Why the World Needs a Global Fund for Education By Chandrika Bahadur and Guido Schmidt-Traub

June 2015

By Chandrika Bahadur and Guido Schmidt-Traub, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Paris and New Dehli.

SDSNA high-quality education is the human right of every child. This right is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and forms the center of the Education for All Initiative launched in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals, and the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Indeed, SDG 4 will be the most ambitious global commitment to education in history, focusing on universal completion of schooling from pre-primary to secondary level for all girls and boys. Yet, the world will not achieve these ambitious goals unless international support is scaled up and better organized, including through a Global Fund for Education that builds on today’s Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

Ensuring universal quality schooling will require better policies as well as greatly increased resources, including for well-trained and motivated teachers, improved curricula, education infrastructure, learning materials, and the use of modern information and communication technologies. The 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report projects that even with aggressive increases in domestic resource mobilization, countries will need an additional $39 billion per year in international finance to close the financing gap for universal access to upper-secondary education. This gap will need to be closed through official development assistance (ODA), which must therefore increase four-fold for low- and lower-middle-income countries. And these figures probably low-ball the true needs since the EFA-GMR estimates do not cover upper secondary completion and tertiary education.

The upcoming Addis Ababa conference on Financing for Development must tackle the financing challenges for the education sector, but it must do so also with regards to major non-financing challenges that must be addressed in the education sector. In doing so we should learn from the lessons in health – the sector that has experienced the most rapid and sustained progress under the Millennium Development Goals – as described in a recent SDSN Working Paper that underwent an extensive public consultation.

Progress in health was achieved through a global unique partnership comprising national governments, civil society organizations, business, international organizations, and science. The pooling and scaling up of international financing through Gavi and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria supported countries in crafting and implementing long-term strategies for addressing the health challenges. Both institutions promoted unprecedented innovation in delivery, technologies, and organization through their ability to work with the private sector, civil society, and governments.

The education sector lacks the organization and scale of international support that is needed to achieve the education SDG. As the premier pooled financing mechanism in the education sector, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has successfully promoted increased domestic funding for education. It has strengthened country-owned planning processes and brought together partners for advocacy, capacity building, and implementation. Today, the GPE reaches around 60 countries with total annual donor funding of nearly $1 billion. Yet, given the financing gap of $39 billion, the scale of the GPE must be increased by more than one order of magnitude to some $15 billion per year by 2020. To reach this scale of financing the GPE must become the Global Fund for Education.

Building on the successes of the GPE, and in line with the experience of Gavi and the Global Fund in health, a scaled-up Global Fund for Education would provide funding at scale to support the implementation of national strategies to achieve the education SDG in all countries that require international financial support, particularly low- and lower-middle income countries, as well as countries in conflict situations.

Some question the need for such a Global Fund, but the experience in health shows clearly that rapid progress requires not only greater domestic and international resources; it also depends on overcoming the high fragmentation of international support for education. At times of empty public coffers in most donor countries, pooling and effective use of scarce ODA resources should be the number one priority in international support for education.

We propose that an effective Global Fund for Education build on the GPE around the following principles:

  1. Support for nationally-owned strategies that have been independently vetted: The Global Fund for Education should support national action plans to achieve SDG 4 that are transparent, quantified, monitorable, supported by broad sections of society, and that mobilize adequate volumes of domestic resources. National action plans will be subject to the scrutiny of an Independent Expert Review Committee comprising experts from UNESCO, UNICEF, the multilateral development banks, and other experts that would make funding recommendations to the board of the Global Fund
  1. Adequate volumes of pooled financing: To close the external financing gap, donor governments, philanthropists, civil society organizations, and businesses need to provide at least $4-5 billion annually during the first three years of the Global Fund for Education rising to some $15 billion by 2020. Innovative financing instruments such as social bonds can also raise funds, but these should all flow through a common fund.
  1. Strategic and independent board: The Global Fund for Education requires a strategic board composed of globally eminent individuals representing all key stakeholders: donor governments, businesses, philanthropic donors, civil society, and recipient governments. The board should be independent of any international agency.
  1. Direct disbursement to in-country recipients:Like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Global Fund for Education will provide funds directly to national governments or other recipients – such as sub-national governments, civil society organizations, international organizations, or businesses – nominated by national stakeholders without needing local intermediaries.
  1. Focus on marginalized children: Countries with large numbers of out-of-school children, including those in conflict or in the midst of humanitarian crises would be funded on a priority basis, subject to each country making the maximum appropriate domestic effort.
  1. Investment in global public goods: The Global Fund for Education would invest in information technologies for education, education accounting systems, metrics and assessment programs, and other public goods that support national education programs.
  1. No new institution: The Global Fund for Education will build on the GPE and therefore does not require a new institution. The governance structures of the new fund would need to reflect its larger mandate and scale of operations.

The Incheon Declaration laid forth some of these principles, but fell short of a whole-hearted call for scaled-up financing with the appropriate global architecture to support its implementation. World leaders will meet again at the July Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa and the September SDG Summit at the United Nations. These two events provide a unique opportunity to ensure that the SDGs will support a goal-based approach to achieving education priorities, just like the MDGs galvanized health.

Norway and Norwegian leaders have played a central role in transforming public health, and the country is poised to do the same with education. The Government will organize a summit on education finance in July, which offers a unique opportunity to work with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the Global Partnership for Education, major philanthropists, and leaders from civil society and business in order to prepare the ground for announcing the Global Fund for Education later this year.

Clearly, the Global Fund for Education will not resolve all challenges in the education sector, but it is impossible to see how the education SDGs can be achieved without pooling greater volumes of international financing and promoting greater innovation. We hope that world leaders rise to this challenge. Children around the world deserve no less.


Chandrika Bahadur is Director for Education Initiatives at the SDSN, based in New Delhi. Email:

Guido Schmidt-Traub is Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Email:

This blog is based on a forthcoming article in NORRAG NEWS 52, Financing Education & Skills – available at in late June 2015.

>>View all NORRAG Blogs on Education Financing

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,200 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


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